My recent exploits into the world of shameless emotional expression have been over the bulk bins at the grocery store, riding the bus, watching someone play Frisbee with their dog, watching someone pull their dog in a cart around my neighborhood (that is love!), watching someone pick up their dogs poop (noticing a theme here?! And I don’t even have a dog!), in yoga class, in dance class, likely in my upcoming History of Feminism’s class, at the rodeo, on a hike, that evening at some hot springs, in the car the next day, you get the picture!
In the past, and maybe you can relate to this, I felt as though I needed to apologize for my emotions, or worse yet, not feel them (repression anyone?!) particularly the ones that we might label as “negative” such as fear, sadness, anger, uncertainty. There were good “reasons” for this at the time, this is a very protective thing that our bodies and psyches do, however it becomes no longer useful when the threat is over. Living with a narrow range of emotions meant an inability to feel and enjoy the depth of human experience and the richness that can come in life and relationships when you are truly living and experiencing the world fully, sadness, insecurity, hurt, joy, happiness, and all. That invulnerability (or as a good friend told me in few years ago, “you are untouchable…that means I cannot touch you”). I was unable to be touched, or moved, or feel joy, or pain, or happiness in a way that made life much less meaningful. What happens to us is part of the story, and how we relate to it and what we attend to is what shapes our experiences in the world.
So, at dare I say, the perpetual risk of analyzing my own and others’ behavior (which can be useful, but also tends to take me away from the felt, embodied experiences and has in the past been for me, used as a way to “justify” whether what I am feeling is valid or not), but anyways, indulge me for these insights. Why not express our emotions or if we do why do we feel bad about it? Maybe we apologize for our emotions and their expressions out of fear that they may make others uncomfortable , or maybe it implies that we (heaven forbid!) might need something from someone; love, comfort, a hug, an ear, validation, and so on. In short, it is just really really vulnerable to show the world what we are feeling. And it is powerful!
Falling apart is powerful for so many reasons. Repressed emotions are terrible for us! We all intuitively know this, but research suggests that repressing emotions can lead to increased physical and mental illness and seriously impacts our emotional health and well-being. Even as far back at the late 1980’s social scientists and clinicians were interested in the role the emotional repression plays on health outcomes (see this New York Times article from 1988 at the end of this post).
But even beyond that, I think that falling apart, or really just showing our vulnerability as emotional expression, can be incredibly connecting! It allows other people an opportunity to show up for us; gives them permission to be able to help us out when we need it. If we are feeling sad, hurt, angry, this can be a true comfort, and feel very affirming. If we are feeling excited, like we just got great news, then this allows others to share in our delight; both really connecting and relationship deepening and calming experiences! In fact, these acts of “micro love” shared between two or more people (even strangers!) can actually improve your overall health and well-being and just make your day feel brighter and more tied to the world around you (for more on “micro love,” see a the link below for great article by Kelly and Brooke Edwards originally published in the online publication Elephant Journal). Giving someone an opportunity to show up for you and participate in your life is both a TOTAL GIFT to them and makes you feel better!
In a recent interview published in The Sun magazine psychologist Barbara Fredrickson said that she no longer judges her day by how much she accomplished, but by how many times she connected with someone (see link to that article below).
This unabashed expression of emotion also gives others permission to do the same in the inevitable times when they are feeling sad, angry, hurt, overwhelmed, confused, thrilled, excited, enthusiastic, relieved, and joyous! Allowing another (and theoretically endless) opportunities to deepen your emotional connection with another and create the relational closeness the makes life, in all its messiness, worth living!
So go ahead, fall apart, and don’t apologize for it! Cry in the produce section, or in STEP class, or on your bike commute home, or at the dinner table, or walking your own dog (or watching someone else walk theirs), you will be doing yourself and the others that you connect with a favor.
The New York Times, Health; Health; New Studies Report Health Dangers Of Repressing Emotional Turmoil, Daniel Goleman: http://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/03/us/health-new-studies-report-health-dangers-of-repressing-emotional-turmoil.html
The Sun, The One you are With, interview by Angela Winter with Barbara Fredrickson:
Elephant Journal, Making the Seconds Count, by Kelly and Brooke Edwards: